DURHAM (AP) — Nico Pierre might be Duke’s quarterback of the future. Right now he’s the Blue Devils’ backup running back of the present.
Pierre was moved to running back during preseason practice after three of the team’s top rushers were injured.
Now that he’s getting comfortable exclusively carrying the ball — as opposed to also being asked to throw it — the redshirt freshman doesn’t want to restrict himself to either position.
“I consider myself an athlete,” Pierre said, “so wherever they put me on the field, I think I can produce good work for the team.”
Coach David Cutcliffe says Pierre is “coming around and getting comfortable as a running back” and Pierre says he hopes to play in the opener next week at Tulane.
“That’s the plan — to get some game-time snaps,” Pierre said. “I’ve just got to show the coaches that I’m worthy enough of getting the game-time snaps. So that’s why I go out and just give it my all every day, so I can get that playing time I need.”
Pierre spent last season as the Blue Devils’ scout team quarterback and entered preseason camp as the third-stringer behind starter Thomas Sirk and backup Parker Boehme.
But running backs Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson and Joseph Ajeigbe went down during camp two weeks ago with injuries of varying severity, with Duncan tearing his right pectoral muscle and Wilson and Ajeigbe suffered less-severe lower body injuries.
That left Shaq Powell as the only healthy rusher among Duke’s top four at the position.
He’s 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, so he has the physical build to take a hit. And he was a dual-threat quarterback who has speed to escape tacklers.
Yet he says there’s a tremendous difference between being a running quarterback and being a running back.
“You’re not actually running in between the tackles” as a quarterback, he said. “You’re running outside the tackles. That’s the time I get to use my speed against the big (defensive) ends and outside linebackers.”
The injured running backs are getting healthier. Cutcliffe said Wilson is “back (and) getting some reps” while Ajeigbe is “not ready but out there getting some work.” He says Duncan is “making progress” but not yet back practicing, Cutcliffe said.
Now the question is, where will Pierre play once all the running backs are back?
“I’m pretty sure I’ll stay (at running back), but that’s up to the coaches,” he said. “Wherever they put me, I’ve just got to produce and be the best player and be the best I can be.”